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Conditioning Ventilation Air

for Improved Performance and Air Quality


The practice of using a mixing chamber for mixing outdoor and return
air in a single system should be replaced by a technique with two
systems: one providing thermal comfort, the other indoor air quality
By WILLIAM J. COAD, PE,*
Chairman of the Board,
McClure Engineering Associates,
St. Louis, Mo.

bution system), room surface temperatures, heat transfer dynamics between


the space and the surroundings, and
tightness of the construction.

CONTAMINANTS
Air is approximately 78 percent nitrogen, 21 percent oxygen, and 1 percent other gasses, including carbon
dioxide, rare gasses, and airborne
chemicals in molecular mix or suspension. Indoor contaminants or pollutants fall into one of three categories:
Category I; Contaminants generated
within the spaceThese contaminants
generally have an identifiable source
within the space. Examples would be
carbon dioxide, biological odors and
artificial aromas from the occupants;
environmental tobacco smoke (ETS);
volatile organic compounds from
binders and adhesives; solvents and
cleaners; chemicals from processes or
storage; and cooking and food odors.
Category II; Environmental contaminants introduced into the spaceWith
these contaminants, one must identify
first the type of contaminant and second its path into the space. The types
would include such environmental
pollutants as carbon monoxide, sulfur
dioxide, industrial chemicals, solvents,
and hosts of various types of particulate
matter. The three most common paths
into the space are 1) through purposeful envelope openings such as windows
and doors, 2) through non-purposeful
openings such as envelope leakage, and
3) through the outdoor air intake of
ventilating systems.

o provide good indoor air quality is the fundamental objective of every HVAC system.
The definition for indoor air
quality that will be used in this article is
that good indoor air quality is the maintaining of the air in the space within the
range of thermal characteristics and
within the limits of concentration of
chemical or organic contaminants necessary for human comfort and safety.
THERMAL CHARACTERISTICS
Thermal characteristics are those
features of the space and air in the
space that allows for the controlled
rate of heat rejection from the human
body, which is necessary for comfort
and personal performance. The thermal characteristics include:
Dry bulb temperature
Relative humidity
Ambient air motion
Freedom from drafts
Temperature homogeneity (air
mixing)
Radiant surface temperatures
Amongst other things, these characteristics are seen to be intrinsically related to the control of temperature and
humidity, the method of introducing
supply air into the space (the air distri*William J. Coad, PE, is a member of HPAC
Engineerings Editorial Advisory Board.

Category III; Organic contaminants


that breed within the spaceThese contaminants are probably the most common, most harmful, and least understood. They thrive in environments of
high relative humidity and moisture
with favorable temperatures and materials or surfaces. The general forms of
these contaminants are microbes,
molds, and mildew.
Because these three categories of contaminants must be treated differently
from one another in the design of an
HVAC system, they will be identified in
this article as Category I, Category II,
and Category III pollutants, respectively.
Undoubtedly, closer attention to
the problems of contaminants in the
indoor environment would have
evolved eventually without the energy
conservation thrust of the 1970s. However, it was certainly spurred on by
those activities. Two very significant
aspects of the changes in building technology resulting from that event were
the changes in the building envelopes,
resulting in increasingly better thermal
qualities and decreasing air leakage,
and the use of variable air volume
(VAV) systems for space temperature
control to replace the constant volume
terminal reheat and dual steam systems.
VENTILATION AIR*
The concept of the mixing chamber
upstream of the space-conditioning apparatus as the point of introduction of
the ventilation makeup air from the
outdoors to dilute the Class I contaminants, properly designed and operated,

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CONDITIONING VENTILATION AIR

may have been a perfectly valid concept with the simpler systems of 50 years
ago. However, in light of the complexity
of todays systems, the concept is not
technically sound. Todays buildings require multiple zoning, operating cycle
turndown ratios varying from 100 percent of full load to zero on cooling and
then from zero to 100 percent of fullheating load. The same system, in many
cases, has to function at one time of the
year in a hot humid climate and at another time of year in a very cold climate.
If one analyzes the psychrometric control requirements under all of these varying conditions, it can be concluded that
the very concept of the mixing chamber
under these requirements is flawed. Furthermore, our continued reliance on this
technology is a major cause of microbial
* For purposes of this article, the following
definitions apply:
1) Ventilation air is air from the outdoors that
is introduced to the space within a building for
the purpose of diluting the contaminants to an
acceptable level.
2) A humid climate is one in which the outdoor
vapor pressure can be expected to exceed the
design indoor vapor pressure for any appreciable time of the year.

(Phase III) contamination in air conditioning systems and, indeed, in air conditioned buildings. In many cases, lack
of thermal comfort has simply been accepted as a limitation of air conditioning
technology. And, these failures are certainly not a result of not spending
enough money. The cost of the complexity introduced for the purpose of trying to make the mixing chamber concept work is overwhelming, particularly
when compared to the lack of success of
those efforts.
The question might then be asked, if
the ventilation air is not introduced into
the mixing chamber, where and how
could it be successfully introduced?
THE ALTERNATIVE
Assume that a building to be air conditioned is located where the weather
varies from hot and humid in the summer months (say, 95 F DB/78 F WB) to
cold and dry in the winter months (say,
0 F), such as in the upper Midwest or
eastern seaboard. Further assume that
this is to be a tight building (very low
infiltration), that the ventilation is to
be independent from the control of any
aspects of the space temperature, and
that any and all dehumidification will

not be done with the same device or


system that provides the other thermal
comfort requirements in the space.
SPACE TEMPERATURE
CONTROL
Any HVAC engineer would agree
that providing thermal comfort under
such assumptions is really quite simple
and inexpensive. It is simply a matter
of an effective air distribution system
and sensible cooling or heating in accordance with the following heat capacity equation:
q = (cfm)(1.08)(DT)
where:
q = Sensible heating or cooling load,
Btuh
cfm = Air circulation rate, cu ft per
min
DT = Temperature difference between supply and room air, F
If this were to be done with a central
fan system serving multiple zones of
control, it could be done with a variable air volume system. The air handling unit could be as shown in Figure
1. The only control required would be
a discharge thermostat controlling the
cooling coil valve. Because dehumidification is provided separately, the coil

VAV System Problems and Solutions


Problem: Varying the velocity from
a diffuser downward from its design
value resulted in the creation of
comfort problems, including:
Poor air distribution
Inadequate mixing
Inadequate ambient air velocity
Lack of temperature homogeneity
Dumping of cold air
Solutions: In the form of products
and systems, several alternative
solutions have been implemented
based upon product concepts. In many
systems, two or more of the solutions
are employed.
Diffusers with a wider range of acceptable performance
VAV combined with reheat
Reset supply air temperature upward under part-load conditions
False loading of space (thermodynamicallyreheat)
Other means for ambient air velocity and mixing (Casablanca fans, etc.)
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Series fan-powered terminals


Parallel fan-powered terminals
Problem: A VAV system is a
cooling-only system in most applications, thus varying the volume can only
provide varying amounts of cooling. In
climates where space heat is required,
a heating capability must be added to
the variable volume feature.
Solutions: The heating is usually
achieved by combining the simple VAV
concept with one of the constant
volume variable temperature features.
Some examples are:
VAV combined with a reheat
VAV combined with double duct
Standing radiation for space heat
or another stand-alone space heating
system
Problem: Insufficient ventilation air
available when VAV system is at less
than full load. Since the mixing process
provides a fixed percentage of outdoor
air in the supply air mix, a reduction in

September 1999 Heating/Piping/AirConditioning

supply air quantity to any given space


results in a reduction in ventilation air.
Solutions: Several solutions have
been proposed and used to maintain
the quantity of outdoor air at not a fixed
percentage but rather a fixed quantity.
Some such solutions include the
following:
A control scheme that utilizes a
fixed outdoor air opening and a sensor combined with a return air or fan
speed control to hold a fixed negative
pressure in the mixing chamber.
Air flow measuring devices that
sense supply air flow rate and return air
flow rate and regulate the return air fan
speed and/or damper positions to control a fixed quantity of outdoor air.
An outdoor air injection fan combined with a flow measuring station that
controls fan speed or damper(s) to
force a fixed quantity of outdoor air into
the mixing chamber.

CONDITIONING VENTILATION AIR

could operate essentially dry and the


leaving or discharge air temperature
could be reset upwards to the temperature required by the zone requiring the
most cooling.
The VAV terminals could have reheat capabilities to assist with the
needs of the air distribution system, if
necessary or to provide needed space
heat in the winter months. A dynamic
load analysis would reveal if such reheat would ever be necessary in any
non-heating zones.
The system so described is a very
simple and inexpensive systemfrom
the air handling unit to the room control. It utilizes a minimum number of
components and a minimum of control
points and lines of control logic.
Other systems could, of course, be
utilized with equal success and simplicity. Because the dehumidification and
ventilation are not required, almost
any recirculating system employing onoff or proportioned control logic will
function quite effectively as long as
good air distribution is maintained.
Some such systems would be variable
capacity diffusers, fan-coil units, unitary heat pumps, radiant heating or
cooling panels, recirculating PTAC
units, or many others.
The fact that all of these systems
would provide sensible cooling or heating only, there would be no probability
that an environment favorable for
Class III contaminants would be inadvertently created (as is the case in most
of todays systems).
This system, in whatever form, can
be referred to as the space temperature
control (STC) system.
HUMIDITY CONTROL AND
VENTILATION
A theoretical analysis of the air conditioning problem for todays buildings
in humid climates reveals an intrinsic
link between the conditioning of the
outdoor ventilation air and control of
the indoor humidity (and the resulting
prevention of microbial growth).
Consider the following logic for
buildings located in a humid climate.*
In the vast majority of buildings,
the major source of indoor water vapor
is from the outdoor air.
If the outdoor air could be pre52

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ENGINEERING

Direct digital
control

VSD
Supply air
fan

Return
air

SM

VAV

Supply
air

Cooling coil
Drain pan
Filter
FIGURE 1. Space temperature control (STC) unit.

Direct digital
control

Louver

Fr

Fr

SM
Supply
air fan

Outside
air
Damper
Filter
IFB coil

T
Supply
air

Reheat coil (optional)


Eliminator
Cooling coil
Drain pan

FIGURE 2. Ventilation air conditioning (VAC) unit.

vented from entering into the space


untreated, the only latent load would
be water vapor generated within the
space.
Assuming a dry space, the only
source of the water required for microbial growth would be from water vapor
introduced, in some way, to the space.
If no water vapor is introduced
into the space, and the vapor that is
generated within the space can be absorbed by dry air being introduced into
the space, there would be no moisture
to support microbial growth.
Therefore, in a warm and humid cli-

September 1999 Heating/Piping/AirConditioning

mate, no air from the humid outdoor


surroundings should be allowed to enter
the cooler space until it has been properly dehumidified. And in this context,
properly dehumidified means reduced in
moisture content to a dew point at or
below that at which the space air is to be
maintained. Because the ventilation air
is from the outdoors, the conclusion is
that any and all outdoor air introduced
into the building should be dehumidified to a specific humidity level (dew
point temperature) at or below that
which is desired within the space. This is
the intrinsic link between conditioning of

CONDITIONING VENTILATION AIR

outdoor air and space humidity control.


In the preceding paragraphs that discussed space temperature control, the
hypothetical condition was established
that in designing a system to provide
environmental comfort it was assumed
that the ventilation requirements and
humidity control would be handled as
a separate consideration. The companion step, then, is to provide that requirement.
The thesis then proposes that the recirculating space temperature control

The ventilation air conditioning unit


would then in its fundamental configuration take the form of the unit in Figure
2. This is an example of a unit for a system with chilled water and heating water available; constant volume ventilation requirements; reasonably smallspace latent loads; and no winter humidification. Assuming that a separate duct
and air distribution system is used to deliver the design quantity of ventilation
air to each space, the unit only need be
sized for the sum of the ventilation air re-

Direct digital
control

Louver

Fr

Fr

SM
Supply
air fan

Outside
air
Damper
Filter
IFB coil

T
Supply
air

Reheat coil (optional)


Eliminator
Sprayed coil

FIGURE 3. Sprayed coil VAC unit.

(STC) system(s) be supplemented with


another air handling and distribution
system that has the following design
characteristics:
Introduce all outdoor air at this unit
in an amount necessary to satisfy the
ventilation requirements of the space.
All air that enters the building is introduced through the ventilation air
conditioning (VAC) unit.
All air introduced through the
VAC unit in warm, humid weather must
be dehumidified to or below the dew
point temperature desired in the space.
If the space is to be humidified in
cold (dry) climates, all humidification
should be provided at the VAC unit.
Removal of the particulate and
unwanted chemicals from the outdoor
air, if this is necessary, should be accomplished at the VAC unit.
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quired, in absolute quantity, to each


space. From both the size of the ventilation system and the energy required to
condition the air, this is the smallest capacity, most energy-efficient ventilation
system that could be provided for a
building.
Another germane feature of this unit
is its simplicity. In its basic form, the unit
is on-off, the intake damper is openclosed, and a freeze protection control is
required, but it is quite simpleeither
the preheat coil is heating or it isnt. The
only modulating controls are for the preheat coil and the cooling coil, and simple proportional control is perfectly acceptable because except at startup, no
upset will occur more rapidly than
changes in the outdoor temperature.
This relatively small unit is the only
place in the system where the psychro-

September 1999 Heating/Piping/AirConditioning

metric problem is solved: it is also the


only point at which two-phase phenomena occur, and thus the only place at
which microbial growth could be supported. In the design of these systems, it
is recommended that all possible precautions be taken to assure cleanliness
(near sterility) in the casing of this unit.
Locating the fan in the draw-through
position will provide a little reheat to assure that the air leaving the unit is incapable of being supersaturated, thus providing no opportunity for liquid
formation or accumulation within the
supply ductwork or the space.
THE DISTRIBUTION SYSTEM
In its simplest form for most buildings, a reasonably small capacity ducting and distribution system from the
VAC unit supplying the treated air directly into each space is all that is required. In those cases in which the
combination of the air quantity and
the space geometry are suitable, the
ventilation air as it is introduced may
be adequate to provide the ambient air
motion needed for thermal comfort.
One manufacturer of variable flow supply diffusers provides a constant flow
outer nozzle for just this purpose. Also,
in those applications where the small
amount of sensible-load capability carried in the makeup air could exceed the
sensible space load, reheat could be
used, but this is usually not the case on
a dehumidifying cycle.
Another option, in those cases in
which a single VAC unit is combined
with multiple STC units, is to supply
the air from the VAC unit into the return air stream of the STC unit. There
are two disadvantages to this choice.
The quantity of outdoor air required may increase because of the
multiple space syndrome, i.e., the
room needing the highest percentage
of outdoor air will now drive the percentage at the point of mixing.
The sensible-cooling capacity of
the ventilation air cannot be added to
that of the recirculated air to reduce
the STC unit air flow requirements.
But, except for the possible energy impact of the first disadvantage, these are
both cost considerations that could be
traded off against the economics of the
separate distribution system.

ALTERNATIVE
CONFIGURATIONS
OF THE VAC UNIT
In climates where the winter outdoor
temperature is significantly below freezing, many designers feel more comfortable using an integrated face and bypass
heating coil. Although, when hot water
is used for heating, a pumped heating
coil with varying water temperature is
quite acceptable with a properly circuited coil.
Where direct expansion refrigeration
is used in lieu of chilled water, constant
dew point temperature can be achieved
by various methods of controlling the
system back pressure or false loading
with hot gas bypass. However, if only an
upper limit on relative humidity is the
concern (environmental comfort), staging compressors or compressor-capacity
control has proven effective.
Furthermore, the VAC units are perfect applications for a host of energy
conservation cycles such as reheat/precool run-around coils, ventilation intake/exhaust heat recovery, etc. They
are also well adapted to the various techniques of desiccant cooling and evaporative cooling in either simple or compound cycles.
The concept being presented is not
new or revolutionary. It was born in
those HVAC applications in which
close-tolerance temperature and humidity control was a fundamental design parameter. And, the solution provided by
this concept is elegant. If the application

requires a constant relative humidity


and dry bulb temperature at all times (art
museum, computer room, laser laboratory, etc.), the VAC unit can simply be
modified by providing a sprayed coil unit
in place of the cooling coil (Figure 3).
Then, with no control system changes, it
will become a humidifying or dehumidifying conditioning device simply by the
laws of physics. If there are measurable
internal latent loads, a space humidistat
could be used to reset the dew point control temperature as needed, but this is
seldom necessary.
This type of humidifier cannot supersaturate the air to the space. This supersaturation, quite common with many
humidifying systems, is a major cause of
Category III contaminants.
NO AIR ECONOMIZER
With the system configuration being
proposed, there is no assumption of an
air economizer for winter cooling with
outdoor air (or partial cooling such as
with an enthalpy economizer). Analogous to the mixing chamber, the use of
an air economizer has been assumed as
almost a given by generations of
HVAC system designers. Ethically, it
seems to be wrong to waste energy refrigerating a space when the surroundings
are at a temperature lower than the
space; stated another way, to refrigerate
recirculated air for cooling when it can
be simply replaced with colder outdoor
air for the same cooling. But, this will be
the subject of a future article. Suffice it

COST OF INSTALLATION
The immediate reaction of most
HVAC practitioners (be they contractors, engineers, or owner/facility managers) is that the use of two units or systems (the STC and VAC systems)
must be more expensive than a single
system to serve both functions. This is
not the case.
From a logic perspective, if the VAC
system is design properly, the recirculating STC unit operates dry, providing
sensible cooling only. Thus, at this unit,
there should be no danger and thus no
concern for creating an environment
that encourages microbial growth. This
then becomes a simple, inexpensive air
handling unit with no problems of
freeze protection or damper interlocks.
Furthermore, if the VAC unit discharge
air is ducted directly to the space, the
STC unit is smaller by the amount of air
provided by the VAC unit. Also, the
STC unit has a much lower pressure
drop than a more conventional unit
because it doesnt require pressure losses
through the mixing dampers, preheat
coil, eliminators, wet cooling coils, and
filters designed to remove atmospheric
impurities. Being able to reset the sup-

Mixing Chamber

tablish the outdoor air/return air percentage mix in the mixing chamber.
In warm humid climates where the
outdoor-specific humidity exceeds the indoor-specific humidity, the mixing chamber will humidify the recirculating air.
When the above occurs in a unit with
on-off control or bypass control, the system will humidify the space.
In cold climates, if the indoor space is
humidified, destructive condensation can
occur in the mixing chamber as the mixed
air drops below the dew point temperature of the indoor air.
If the outdoor specific humidity exceeds the indoor specific humidity, all of
the air (ventilation and recirculated) must
be cooled below the design dew point
temperature to maintain space humidity

control.
If there are chemical pollutants in the
outdoor air requiring chemical filtration,
the chemical filter must be sized to filter all
of the air (ventilation and recirculated)
since it is normally installed downstream
of the mixing point.
In cold climates, steam or water coils
in an air handling unit can be subjected to
below freezing temperatures and must be
protected from freezing and rupturing.
This protection often results in less reliable performance of the unit whether from
actual safety shutoffs that protect the unit
or nuisance shutdowns because of
anomalies of the system. (When the air
handling unit is used to heat the space, a
freeze-protection shutdown turns off the
space heating system.)

mixing chamber is a device added to


an air conditioning air handling unit to
add the feature of supplying conditioned
ventilation air to the space simultaneously with the conditioned recirculating
air required for space temperature and
humidity control.
Problem: Introducing the ventilation
air through a mixing chamber in a
multiple-zoned air handling system introduces several problems or limitations on
the system design options. Examples of
these are:
When multiple spaces are supplied
by the air handling unit, the single space
with the requirement of the highest percentage of outdoor ventilation air will es-

to say, not only have studies revealed


that many air economizer cycles are not
economically justifiable, but there have
been many cases, not only where they
added to the investment cost, but they
actually consume more total resource energy than the alternatives.

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CONDITIONING VENTILATION AIR

ply air temperature upward under partload conditions without reheat, in many
cases, will provide effective part-load
control without terminal reheat, fanpowered terminals, or other costly, complex, and potentially troublesome terminal device schemes.
Experience in applying this concept

to actual installations has been that


the systems have been installed within
the same budgetary constraints as more
conventional systems and sometimes
for considerably less. In one of the
more spectacular examples, in a large
medical building in the Midwest, the
HVAC system cost was reduced by 31

percent, accompanied by an estimated


reduction in annual energy cost.
CONCLUSION
The thesis presented in this article is
that in warm, humid climates or cold climates the use of an outdoor air-return air
mixing chamber upstream of the air
handling unit is a concept that is fundamentally flawed, and the practice should
be replaced by the alternative concept
presented. That concept is to provide
basically two systems to provide reliably
for 1) the thermal comfort and 2) assurance of acceptable indoor air quality.
The VAC system should be a 100 percent outdoor air system and provide all
of the ventilation air required. It should
be the only point at which outdoor air is
introduced into the building as well as
include particulate and gas filtration to
remove Category II contaminants (if
this is necessary) and provide all of the
space humidity control.
The STC system should be designed
and arranged for sensible heating or
cooling and for control of the thermal
comfort aspects of the space except the
humidity level. All humidity control
should be delegated to the VAC system.
The STC system could provide the ambient air velocity, or this feature could
possibly be provided by the introduction
of the ventilation air into the space or by
other means (such as a Casablanca fan
or other in-the-room circulators).
Properly designed systems based upon
the concept proposed, would provide an
extremely high degree of indoor air quality and thermal comfort for general
space conditioning or for spaces with extremely critical requirements for closetolerance control of temperature and
humidity, at a reduced installation cost.
Insofar as adequate and measurable
quantities of ventilation air necessary
to control Category I contaminants is
concerned, the VAC system provides a
single and easily measurable and controllable point of introduction of ventilation air.
With the concept proposed, providing good indoor air quality by design can
be a proactive and planned engineering
achievement rather than a reactive reHPAC
sponse to problems.
Circle 502 on reader service card if this
article was useful; circle 503 if it was not.

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September 1999 Heating/Piping/AirConditioning